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Japanese knife steels-WTF

Have decided to add a few Japanese knives to my knife collection and am baffled by the descriptions of 61 carbon steel, white steel, blue steel with tungsten, etc. The knives l use now are primarily relatively soft carbon steel and l love them as they are easy to sharpen. My current Japanese knives purchased at the two Masamoto stores in Tsukiji, l have sharpened at Korin in New York.
These will be used sparingly and most definitely not professionally thus would like a brief explanation of the differences in the steels involved and suggestions in which to get.
As of now l plan on a sujihiki or a yanagiba at 300 mm or 330 mm.
This is primarily directed at Cowboyardee,Chemicalkinetics, Knifesavers, and Kaleokahu but all are welcome
Thanks for your help.

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  1. Might want to have this moved to the cookware forum

    1. Hey Delucacheesemonger,

      A basic primer in Japanese carbon steels:
      White steel = shirogami
      Blue steel = aogami
      Yellow steel = kigami

      White steel tends to be the easiest to sharpen of the three. It doesn't quite have the edge retention or corrosion resistance of blue steel (which has chromium and tungsten added). Blue steel tends to have greater wear resistance. Supposedly, blue steel is a little more chip prone than white steel, but in practice it depends more on the knife in question and the hardness it's tempered to than which steel you're using. You won't see too much yellow steel in the knives you're looking at, I think. Yellow steel is generally thought to be less desirable than white or blue steel, though in practice none of the three are bad.

      Slightly complicating matters, white and blue steels each come in three formulations.

      - White #1 (most carbon, usually considered the best white steel, most expensive white steel, sharpens extremely well)
      - White #2 (a bit less carbon than white #1, still sharpens well, still a good steel)
      - White #3 (a bit less carbon than white #2, still pretty decent)

      - Blue super steel (also known as AS for 'aogami super,' high carbon, high wear resistance, great edge retention, harder to sharpen than white steels)
      - Blue #1
      - Blue #2 (least corrosion resistance, least edge retention, and easiest to sharpen of the blue steels)

      In practice, all of these are good steels. Keep in mind that hardness can vary and can also play just as much or more of a role in how these steels sharpen or perform than their comparative makeups.

      5 Replies
      1. re: cowboyardee

        As always thanks. One of the ones involved is just listed as high carbon steel and affordable. Brand is Yoshiharu

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          "High carbon steel" is a pretty general term and could indicate any of the above. But more likely, none of the above (if they were using blue or white hitachi steel, they'd probably advertise it). Could even be a stainless steel. Impossible to say. Your best bet would be to ask the vendor. Not particularly familiar with yoshiharu knives. Sorry I can't help you there.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            In addition to what cowboyardee said, there's also super blue ( which is a combination of white and blue steel) and SK4 or SK5 which is a budget or low end carbon steel.

            Bluewayjapan sell Yoshiharu knives, the ones that are listed as high carbon are likely made from SK4/5 or yellow steel. FWIW, SK4/5 steel is notorious for being very reactive and taking forever to develop a patina; it would be fine for a protein only knife like a Sujihiki, but a pita on knives that see a lot of acidic foods.

            Yanigaba is ideally suited for cutting sushi and other soft items. If you want one, get one that is made from white#2 or better. The ones made from lesser steels, won't provide the type of edge that a yanigiba needs, plus low-end single bevel knives are more opt to bent, warped, and/ or poorly ground.

            If you aren't doing sushi, and are just looking for a general purpose slicer, get a Sujihiki.

            1. re: JavaBean

              < the ones that are listed as high carbon are likely made from SK4/5 or yellow steel>

              Agree. If it is white or blue, then the sellers will almost always spell this information out.

            2. re: Delucacheesemonger

              I agree with cowboyardee. One of the most meaningless term is "high carbon steel". I would say 99% of the knives are so called high carbon steel. This includes very good to very bad knives.

          2. Hi, DCM:

            The alloys are all *slightly* different in composition and attributes. Hardness itself is mostly a function of the heat-treat.

            If you want Hitachi steel, I like ATS34 which is a stainless toolsteel, basically the same as 154cm. The HT is complicated and hard to get right. Their SLD-Magic is another I'd like to try.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. <The knives l use now are primarily relatively soft carbon steel and l love them as they are easy to sharpen>

                I actually do not find there is a huge difference between sharpening a harder steel knife vs a softer steel knife. You may spend a bit more time, but they require the same skill set. We are not talking about night and day difference -- unless you are talking about single bevel vs double bevel knives, but that has to do with geometry.

                <My current Japanese knives purchased at the two Masamoto stores in Tsukiji>

                You still want more?

                <As of now l plan on a sujihiki or a yanagiba at 300 mm or 330 mm>

                Sujihiki is easier to use. Unless you have a strong preference, then go with it.

                If you are going to get a Japanese knife, then you may as well get the white steel (shirogami) or a blue steel (aogami). Usually speaking, blue steel is a bit more expensive, but it is a bit easier to take care of -- less easy to get rusted...etc. However, both are really great.

                There are many variation within white steel and blue steel, but I won't worry too much at this point unless you are set to get the absolutely best possible knife. Again, what is best for you, may not be best for me. Most sushi chefs prefer white steel because it is slightly easier to sharpen and it is rumored to take on a slightly sharper edge. However, I prefer blue steel knives because they are slightly easier to take care of.

                8 Replies
                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    'You still want more?'

                    What the heck is going on here! If we're going to start questioning knife purchases or even worse begin rationalizing them based on something as stupid as do we really need them, we're all screwed!

                    1. re: JavaBean

                      I think you mean to address me.

                      Nah, I was not seriously questioning. I got the impression that Delucacheesemonger only recently got the Japanese knives. Now reading again, I see that Delucacheesemonger never said when the knives were last bought.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        What a relief. I'd hate to think our minds were no longer one :)

                        1. re: JavaBean

                          Some people have split personality. We could still be one person, but you and I belong to the two personalities. :)

                            1. re: JavaBean

                              Has particle entanglement finally been brought to this board!?!

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Tokyo knives bought ages ago, 4 years, thus am l allowed to purchase more ?